TEN HOW'S & WHAT IF'S
1. Will the children
be exposed to enough of the world?
Yes. Children are naturally inquisitive. They have an unquenchable thirst for
knowledge and mastery over their world. Anyone who has tried to hide the Teenage
Mutant Ninja Turtles or Power Rangers from their three year old will remember
how hard it is to limit exposure. By placing children in an environment which
contains elements of world culture, history, science, mathematics, literature,
jurisprudence, and other elements of the human experience, children are
"set up" to let their natural curiosity and ambition to master new
things take over their education. The challenge is not to expose children to
more; it is to resist the urge to squelch natural curiosity by controlling its
subject and methods.
What if the children choose not to take advantage of the possibilities presented
at the New School? It is important to remember that learning is continuous and
lifelong. If a particular topic is not studied while in school, it may be
studied when one is older, when one's interest is piqued and understanding the
topic is truly the focus of one's efforts, rather than satisfying the teacher or
merely achieving a high grade. As it is, children are inundated with information
of a scope and depth unheard of even a few years ago. What they need to learn
more than ever is how to sift through this profusion and discover what is
useful. These habits of thought are developed by practicing judgment for oneself
rather than letting another determine what is useful or appropriate. There is no
way of telling whether one subject or another will be gratifying and fulfilling
unless one has the freedom to follow one's interests. To deny students the
pursuit of a study they deem important because in our minds, for whatever
nostalgic reason, another topic is more appropriate, may be to deny them the
very study in which they may be most brilliant.
2. Will the children become
At The New School we believe it is better to be open to conversation, to learn
to question honestly and unselfconsciously when confronted with an unfamiliar
topic or idea, to practice analyzing new information and making rational
judgments, and to become articulate, rather than to attempt to remember vast
quantities of unexamined, unrelated, inert information. This is not to deny that
becoming well-rounded, in the sense of having a broad, general knowledge base,
may be a goal for some children. Many people have wide-ranging interests. Any
child who has this as a goal can reach it at The New School. The diversity of
the world will be available through books and discussion, visitors, guest
instructors, interactive computer access, correspondence, projects, and travel.
However, parents must realize that some children do not aim for the generality
which well-roundedness implies. Some students at The New School will focus on
one area and become masters, artists, and geniuses in that area. Excellence
often implies a single-minded focus. Greatness comes from excellence. This too
is a possibility at The New School.
3. Will the children learn anything?
Yes. Learning is as natural to children as breathing and smiling. Many things
which "need" to be learned are so inherently important and interesting
that children will naturally choose to learn them, if not compelled to do so.
This means that children at The New School may learn things at different times
in their lives than children in more restrictive environments. But, it also
means that when they learn, it is because they are fired by interest in the
subject. I cannot over emphasis the difference this makes.
Subjects which in a more constrictive environment would take years to learn can
be mastered in weeks when children are driven by their desire to know. Each
subject is attacked with the single-minded intensity of an excited child. If you
have ever noticed the difference in retention and speed of mastery, and depth of
understanding, between something which you do for pleasure and something which
you "have to do", you will know what I mean. When you choose the
subject you remember more, understand more deeply, and learn faster. Every child
can and will learn. However, every child feels the importance of liberty, and
rebels against being told what, when, and how to learn. When this reaction does
not impede learning, children soar.
It is important to remember that the mere accumulation of information is not the
goal of schooling. School is no longer the repository of information that it
once was. Information today is available at the touch of a remote control or the
stroke of a keyboard. School is a place to practice the skills associated with
the handling and using of information, a place to converse, to question, to
reason, to articulate, and to create. Whether these skills are practiced through
more formal group activities organized by the students and assisted by the
staff, through an intensive independent research project, or in the day to day
activities of the School Meeting and Judicial and other Committees is determined
by the student.
4. If there are no grades or report cards how will the children and parents
know how well the children have done?
When we pursue activities we are truly interested in, we are the best judges of
our accomplishments, because we set the goals, we know what we hope to achieve,
and what results we consider acceptable. When we are becoming proficient in some
area, we turn to the examples of those already accomplished in our chosen
pursuit to determine what is an acceptable level of performance. To compare
ourselves to these experts and learn from their example requires honest
reflection and self-evaluation, two qualities which The New School will foster.
For the children to learn honest self-evaluation without self-reproach, the
staff of The New School is always available to help them reflect on and improve
their work in the pursuit of excellence. No grade needs to be attached to a
child's work when an honest conversation between a child and mentor results in a
deeper understanding for the child. These qualities grow naturally out of
participation as an empowered and responsible member of a democratic community.
It is these skills as judged by each student and by peers, teachers, and parents
which are the central requirements for graduation. The student's graduation
thesis is a testament to the student's successful attainment of these abilities.
Parents are members of the School Assembly and welcome to come and listen to the
debate, argue their views, and (after the first year as a member of the
community) vote their wishes. In these ways, parents can be more in touch with
their child's experience and progress than in a conventional setting. However,
the real answer to how parents will know how well their children are doing is
the same at The New School as everywhere. The only way to know how your child is
doing is to talk together and spend time knowing one another. These are things
which the freedom and empowerment of The New School will make more interesting
and more rewarding.
5. What about extracurricular activities like sports?
I love them! There is no rigorous distinction between curricular and
extracurricular activities at The New School. When left to their own devises
children will play. If a group becomes interested enough, and can carry the vote
of the School Meeting, the interested children will make the arrangements for
and will engage in inter-scholastic sports competition, music, dance, and other
activities. Within the School, however, sports, music, drama, and dance will
doubtless be a part of most children's days, as their interests dictate.
6. How will the children be able to get into college?
The unique background and scope of experience afforded by The New School can
place any child who applies time and effort in that direction in a strong
position for college admission. The freedom of designing a curriculum to follow
personal interests and passions will make some students stand out like stars in
the darkness of college applicants. Further the tools of self-reliance and
independence which the responsibilities of The New School place on students,
enable them to analyze and devise a campaign to reach any goal. These skills
will make the project of admission to college just another challenge to be met
head on, with confidence and enthusiasm.
However, it must also be recognized that not all children will want to go to
college. Some not right away. Some not at all. This choice too is respected at
The New School. To
graduate, each student must demonstrate and defend the proposition that he or
she is ready to take a place as a responsible adult in the community. For some,
that place will be as a laborer, craftsman, musician, artist, artisan or other
non-academic place. So long as they are maturely and responsibly done, these are
If a student does chose to attend college, it will be up to them* to prove to the
college admissions committee that they are a worthy candidate for admission. The
staff of The New School will be more than happy to write personal
recommendations for the students, and a description of The New School's
educational approach will be sent to the college at the request of the student.
Whether the child decides to take the SAT or prepare for college with a more
formal course of study is up to the student. SAT preparation classes and college
admission strategy classes can be arranged as any other class, by the students.
The New School staff will aid them in any way they can when the student
approaches them with such a request for assistance. Because so much of this
process depends on the students' interest and perseverance, their college
preparations, like all their studies at The New School, will be more focused and
productive than they might be under more constrained conditions.
Many children who attend democratic free schools attend college. The students of
Sudbury Valley School, a democratic free school in operation for 43 years, have
attended the colleges of their choice, ranging from local community colleges to
Yale, MIT, and other major universities across the country. The careers they
pursue are varied: physician, organic farmer, computer consultant and software
designer, art restorer, etc. Many of them return to college to further their
careers or to study in entirely new fields. The graduates of democratic free
schooling are competent, productive, and responsible adults who feel comfortable
with themselves and in control of their lives.
7. How will the children know what to do with their time?
Most adults dealing with children spend their efforts making the children STOP
doing things. The New School will be a place to see what all that truncated
activity would lead to if unchecked. The children will undoubtedly play, and
play a lot! Play is often the most important activity children can engage in
because it is their way of making models of the world, of coming to terms with
their surroundings and experiences and making a whole of them and their
conceptions and beliefs. Academic pursuits or the quest for more structured
knowledge occurs naturally out of this examination of the world and their place
There is, however, a period of adjustment for children coming to democratic free
schooling from more traditional settings. These children have often become so
accustomed to being told what to do with their time that they have difficulty
remembering just what it is they really want to do. This can be an uncomfortable
time, a time when reflection and self-discovery are the primary activity of the
day. This time is to be prized. "Know thyself" is a fundamental tenet
of Western philosophy expounded and exemplified by Socrates. By coming to know
ourselves, we become self-directed and cognizant of our responsibility for our
own actions. Through self-direction we become responsible adults. Although the
transition period varies from child to child, taking days, weeks, or months,
those who persist become accustomed to being responsible for themselves. After
that, there is never any question of what to do with their* time.
8. How will the children learn discipline?
The children will learn discipline because it will be a matter of utmost
importance to the continued existence and smooth operation of a school they love
and absolutely vital to their happiness in a participatory democracy. The
children are given every opportunity to act responsibly and discipline
themselves with the help of caring adults. There is a school law book which
determines which behaviors are unacceptable. There is a judicial committee,
composed of students and one staff member, which mediates disagreements and
sanctions those who persist in unacceptable behavior. The School Meeting, which
is responsible for the day to day running of The New School, is composed of the
students and staff. The students after careful research and honest debate,
determine what their school will be like and how it will be maintained. Because
of these organizational arrangements, the students are acutely aware that it is
in their best interests to be responsible and self-disciplined. If they are not
self-disciplined, they will have to live with the consequences of their actions.
9. Won't it be hard on the children to be so different from their peers?
It is true that children who experience democratic free schooling are different
from many of their peers. But by being part of a strong and supportive
community, they are empowered to face the world; as self-discipline and
responsibility grow, so does self-confidence. These children often see their
education as either a gift or as a natural right, and would rather learn in such
an environment than in any other, regardless of what their peers may say or
believe. They are confident in their decisions and can find other grounds for
developing friendships and feeling part of their peer culture. From a parent's
perspective, being different may actually be preferable, if the evidence of the
common bond of a similar school experience shows itself in a professed
disrespect for others (namely adults and outcasts) and disdain for learning.
10. How does my child enroll in The New School?
The first step in the enrollment process is the interview. The parents and the
child attend the interview which lasts about one hour. It is an opportunity to
discuss The New School in greater detail and is an important aid in determining
the appropriateness of enrollment. Once the decision has been made to enroll in
The New School, the parents and child sign the Enrollment Request Form which is
a declaration of intent to enroll. The other documents which need to be
completed include the enrollment contract, the medical consent form, and the
immunization record. The annual tuition must accompany the completed documents
which are due by August 1st, unless other arrangements have been made. Upon
receipt of these documents, The New School will inform the student when he or
she may begin school and a packet of introductory materials including The Law
Book will be forwarded to the student. Then the adventure begins.
*The third-person plural form is here used as a
the third-person singular generic pronoun, since the word "student" in
the School's usage denotes a group of persons as well as the condition of an
individual; see, The American Heritage Book of English Usage (1996) Sec.
18 "they with singular antecedent.".
© 1996 -
The New School.
Last revised 29 November 2016